Citizens of today’s Azerbaijan can hardly imagine what a tormenting path one had to go through to leave the USSR even for an elementary tourist trip to a completely loyal Bulgaria, with all those interviews, questionnaires, commissions, etc. Today, in most countries, even in the post-Soviet space, this is an old forgotten story. Right to freedom of movement is considered one of the fundamental human rights, and in practice it means that any country can restrict the entry of foreigners to its territory without even explaining the reasons. But in the modern world, it is not accepted to restrict the movement of your own citizens without serious reasons. With rare exceptions, the once popular Soviet political anecdote has almost never came true: “What should one do if the USSR opens its borders? – Quickly climb a tall strong tree or they will trample you over." One of the exceptions is Armenia, which is going through a migration shock again.
I could, of course, start this passage with something trivial like "there were no signs of trouble" and "we wished for the best," given the decline of the coronavirus pandemic with many countries lifting off the lockdown restrictions. This also applies to Russia, which resumes the air traffic with neighbouring countries, including Armenia.
However, the opening of passenger air transportation between Moscow and Yerevan caused a new wave of public outrage in Armenia, with a sky rocketing demand for tickets at the Zvartnots airport. According to Armenian sources, a ticket to Moscow in the black market cost $700. Families, who could get tickets to Moscow or to Mineralniye Vody, were happy as if they had hit the jackpot.
Naira Zohrabyan, a member of the Armenian parliament from the Prosperous Armenia Party, published an alarmist comment in social media: “I have just returned from the airport. As a deputy, I wanted to see the situation there. You have no idea how tense it is there. They buy one-way tickets to Moscow... There has never been such a demand for flights to Russia. Armenia will face the largest migration in the last 30 years. We did not have such a situation even in the 1990s." Then she makes a forecast: “...I assume there will simply be a demographic crisis in Armenia… Today, February 1, there were 6 flights to Russia from Yerevan, of which 4 were to Moscow. The first flight left for Mineralniye Vody at 7:55. This is a national tragedy."
Zvartnots as a mirror of Armenian reality
One can, of course, blame Mrs. Zohrabyan for exaggerating the situation in Armenia. But she is not the only one who says that the Zvartnots airport in Yerevan is crowded with those who want to leave the country. Borders closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and war have helped to control the migration. But now the situation in Armenia resembles a flood trying to break the dam. Talks about the problem of migration have started way before Russia announced the resumption of air communication with Armenia. Zohrabyan names the reasons that push her fellow citizens to buy one-way tickets: “first of all, it’s because of the war. Secondly, Armenians no longer feel safe in their country. Thirdly, and most importantly, the economic situation in Armenia is too difficult. I no longer have the right to blame the Armenians who cannot afford a bread. The worst thing is that they are not sure that tomorrow the Turks will not enter their homes."
Perhaps, it is worth reminding Mrs. Zohrabyan that it were the same Armenians that entered the homes of Turks first, expelled their owners and tried to live a happy life there. But they failed. Azerbaijani children who had left their homes barefoot in the snow have grown and returned in tanks. The same applies to the attempts of Armenians to shift the borders in Zangezur during the occupation. Therefore, there is no need to blame and be afraid of Turks who can allegedly break into someone's house.
Indeed, Naira Zohrabyan's references to the war sound quite strange. First, the war in Garabagh did not begin on September 27, 2020, but back in the 1990s. Secondly, it ended in 2020. And no matter how tempting is it to blame Nikol Pashinyan for all the troubles, migration in Armenia continues to break records, while the majority of Armenian population and political elite believed that Armenia won and ended the war in 1994, and that there was nothing left to do but to formalise the victory on paper. But the people continued to run away from the country and the criminal regime amid economic hopelessness. Former Prime Minister of Armenia Hrant Bagratyan was shocked: people are leaving on foot along the railway tracks! According to independent experts, on average, 1 person leaves Armenia every 20 minutes. Mostly young and healthy people, which inevitably affects the birth rate.
Armenian authorities promised to fix the situation though. In 2017, the then-President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan announced his program to improve demographics in Armenia, promising to increase the population to 4 million by 2040. Demographers have mockingly criticised the impossibility of Sargsyan’s promise. Then, after the infamous 2018 coup, it was Nikol Pashinyan's turn to promise his fellow compatriots golden mountains, rivers of milk, 20-fold GDP growth and medals of the European and World Football Championships by 2050. But now, when the same citizens of Armenia are standing in queues at the Zvartnots airport, those plans do not look promising. But…
War is over. Or?..
However, the current surge in migration from Armenia is at least noteworthy. The war is over. Azerbaijan constantly emphasizes that the conflict has been settled, and it is time for regional countries to jointly build a peaceful future. Regional communications are unblocked, which gives Armenia a chance to get out of the ‘blockade’, which they have been lamenting for almost 30 years. Today’s agenda is about investments, recovery from isolation, economic reintegration and reanimation. In short, it’s time to open a new season of great expectations and wait for positive changes instead of being squeezed in the queue for one-way tickets.
But how we explain the current rise in migration rate? Apparently, the citizens of Armenia, knocking on the windows of the Zvartnots airport, are simply fed up with promises of government authorities. It takes time to reach the positive trends, while the Armenian population wants to eat now. And this doesn’t look promising at all. Armenian budget does not get income from numerous mines located in the previously occupied Azerbaijani territories. It is also necessary to have funds to restore the crushed Armenian army. It is necessary to provide equipment to new borders, which is also not free. Plus social payments to the families of the victims of the war. Most importantly, there are explicit attempts in Armenia to revise the trilateral statements signed on November 10 and January 11, calling for revenge; deadly dances with fire on the border line, such as the case incident in Gazakh, and attempts to unleash a terrorist war in the region. They are well aware that the local revenge-seekers started this game after Armenia lost the war and its army, with failed external security guarantees. It is not surprising that this triggered the collective intelligence of Armenian citizens, pushing them to run far away from the local ‘zealots of the Armenian cause’.